Boston Legal Season 4 Review

The Series

We live in times of great divisions. Some of the chasms that exist in our world reflect polar opposite ways of being, but some represent the kind of artificial differences that exist between Pepsi and Coke. Cosmetic differences have become the window dressing of both political conflict and cola, and exaggerated to obscure the real lack of choice therein. Some differences have been created to sustain an illusion of choice at the supermarket, or indeed to perpetuate a pantomime of democracy. And in election year, whether it's Barrack, McCain or Hilary, there is little real dialogue going on.

Boston Legal may be the sole place on the TV continuum that we would hear the above opinion. That is because of its deliberate politicking, rather than its pleasing format guaranteeing reliable repetition. David E Kelley does this chiefly through the mouthpiece afforded to him through his creation of Alan Shore, who as one judge points out regularly uses the courtroom for his “left wing opinions”. Shore is the man all lawyers want to be whenever he is in a courtroom, and perhaps the man many of us dream of being in the bedroom. The key characteristic that makes him work in a drama is that for all his causes and moral grandstanding, he is a rogue. He is someone who preaches equality whilst objectifying every woman he meets and gets away with calling female lawyers “slut”. He is the hypocrite that we'd all like to be.

And he's not on his own. His best friend, Denny Crane, shoots, propositions and behaves exactly as badly as he'd like to. An arch Republican, a homophobe who loves his male best friend more than any of his wives. A patriot who sits alongside his leftie friend as he tears big business and conservative causes a new one in open court. Yep, Denny Crane is a rogue too.

Since this is a program that concentrates on a friendship of political opposites, it can't be surprising that these two men's differences dissolve into the hot air of opinion at times. When this happens the left leaning rogue and the right leaning rogue can start to seem like two brands of the same cola. After all they are quite alike in truth. They are both inveterate skirt chasers, chancers and both suffering mental malaise. They may fight over patriotism but they love their country. For all that they disagree, every night they “celebrate their friendship” with whiskey and a cigar.

Through fighting and making up, Alan Shore and Denny Crane end up as an object lesson in how America should be. They are tolerant and loyal examples to a country given to fighting over nothing -wouldn't it be far better if real differences were allowed and public dialogue could be had in a spirit of real tolerance.

So season four of Boston Legal proves again that whilst the real world chooses brand A over brand B, that there is a better way to be different. It does this through diversity taken to extremes. Its cast of lawyers and judges are varied and flawed. This time we get Carl Sack, the order junkie trapped in the chaos of Crane, Poole and Schmidt, and, thankfully, John Larroquette proves a more satisfying and entertaining alternative to Rene Auberjonois. We get Christian Clemenson's Jerry Espenson ticking and whooping through nearly every episode after a run of recurring cameos in earlier seasons. We get the sweet Katie and the feisty Whitney, and we get senile, closeted gay, and sexy judges as well as the current supreme court.

This is all diverting and the sacred cows are slaughtered in droves in the topics on show in this season. Abortion, date rape, undemocratic Democrats, bull fighting, cock fighting and Nantucket trying to get its own nuclear bomb. American schools are exposed for their poverty of an education and veterans' awful treatment is put under the microscope. All that doesn't normally get aired and discussed in modern TV is fair game and Alan can argue for every liberal cause that is under fire after eight years of Dubya.

So it all gets said and it all is done within a fine comic and dramatic framework, but, most importantly, humanity shines through in the shape of friendship, affection and intimacy. To make lawyers appealing is quite a struggle for any writer but Kelley and co gives the audience enough to care about in the oddest law firm ever conceived. And front and centre in this program is a beautiful friendship, a love that dares to speak its name and that dares to discuss everything that the post 9-11 America seems desperate to keep under wraps. Alan and Denny are not new and improved, or even original formula, but they are the real thing.

Despite the writers strike, despite bad scheduling and with huge cast changes brought in to invigorate the storylines Season 4 is possibly funnier and more provocative than the program has been before. More than that, its a lesson in how much better the world is with choice and diversity rather than an orthodoxy that brooks no real dissent. Long may Alan's long closings and Denny's disrespectful farts last.

The Discs

Season four's twenty episodes are presented on 5 dual layer discs with a single stereo option. The best way to describe the transfer is by sighing, so the picture below of George Segal's shoulder is intended to make you do that. Now deep breath, here we go...

I think you can work out for yourself that Segal is not the readybrek man or radiocative but suffering from a pretty heavy case of edge enhancement. In fact this is the worst case of this I have seen on a new TV programme or film this year. The transfer is anamorphic though and once you have relaxed from your long sigh, you may feel that the colours are accurate if you ignore some bleeding reds and oranges. It does lacks detail and I am tempted to quote the honorable Judge above by saying "shocking" but it really is simply halfhearted and underwhelming.

The single stereo track is clear and imperfection free and the disc contains hard of hearing and normal optional subs. The menus are very dull and unfortunately wholly in keeping with how the series has been presented on DVD before, but the lack of a play all function on each disc seems a strange choice if, like me, you enjoy soaking up several episodes in one sitting.

The sole real extra is a featurette where the new members of the cast talk about how they got on board. John Larroquette, Taraji P Henson, Tara Summers, Saffron Burrows and, oddly, non newbie Gary Anthony Williams all talk to camera about what fun they had. The disc also encourages you to check out Fox's websites in case you'd actually like some more extras.


A truly great TV series in one of its best seasons is given an ordinary treatment with bad, bad edges. It may be the same transfers as the R1 set but you will want to check that out before purchasing. Outrageous...

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